Improvise Your Interview:

Use improv skills to land your dream job

"Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will." – Baudelaire

This book will help you build the skills to  

Vince Ricci helps college and graduate school applicants find and tell their best stories. A leading admissions consultant since 2002, Vince was president of The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC). As an Applied Improvisation coach, he offers online and in-person Games for Creative Living courses in California and Japan. 

 Improvise Your Interview

 by Vince Ricci

A pivotal moment in my life occurred during a Kellogg Business School interview, where I stumbled and failed to convey my true potential. Despite my interviewer's repeated requests for a story showcasing my leadership skills in a non-authoritative role, I found myself fixated on recounting instances where I held prestigious titles such as Director or President. It was not due to a lack of preparation but rather my failure to truly listen. Looking back, I realize I was avoiding her unexpected question because I was afraid of improvising. 

Since that fateful day, I have applied my improvisation experience to empower individuals in their quest for success in job and admission interviews. Since 2002, I have helped hundreds of clients who seek admission to prestigious colleges and graduate schools or aspire to advance their careers through internships or jobs. Through this work, I have developed strategies that consistently yield favorable interview outcomes. For example, drawing on improv insights, I guide my clients to perceive interruptions as unexpected gifts and view each unanticipated interview question as an opportunity for them to shine. 

As an admissions expert, I have recently served as a board member of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), including a one-year tenure as President. AIGAC, in its 17-year history, has fostered trust and credibility, primarily through organizing annual conferences that facilitate meaningful interactions between admission directors from the world's top business schools. Most notably, our 2023 conference, hosted by Columbia Business School and the Yale School of Management, was a resounding success. 

During these conferences, we actively seek input from admissions officers regarding their interview preferences and grievances. Remarkably, they consistently express their disdain for rehearsed responses, yearning instead for genuine conversations. Unfortunately, they often encounter over-rehearsed, robotic deliveries lacking emotion and authenticity. They genuinely want applicants to acknowledge the question at hand and take a moment to reflect on an example that answers the question behind the question. 

In my earlier anecdote, my interviewer sought a story that exemplified my leadership abilities as a team member, regardless of my formal title. Regrettably, I failed to grasp this nuance and instead regaled her with tales of my directorial and presidential triumphs. 

A similar pitfall might arise in a job interview scenario when you are asked why you wish to join the organization. Rather than rattling off the three-minute list you have memorized, select one or two points that resonate with your sense of what your interviewer loves most about working there. Use the time to make connections. Most interviewers are trying to collect something other than new data. Often, they are trying to get to know the person behind the profile.

Admissions officers and hiring managers also mention how annoying it can be to interview applicants who need more self-awareness. It reminds me of Albert Mehrabian's well-known 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication. His research at UCLA postulates that when speakers' words diverge from their nonverbal cues, listeners tend to place greater trust in the latter rather than the former. For instance, if someone were to utter, "I don't have a problem with you!" while avoiding eye contact and exhibiting signs of anxiety, as suggested by Prof. Mehrabian's findings, the receiver would base their interpretation predominantly on the nonverbal aspects (vocal tone 38% + facial expression 55%), rather than the mere 7% associated with the words themselves.

I have observed that those lacking self-awareness benefit significantly from practicing their responses in front of a mirror. This "Mirror Method" exercise allows my clients to visually and audibly witness their delivery of fundamental questions such as, "Tell me about yourself," or "Why do you wish to join us?" Real-time feedback facilitates identifying and rectifying verbal, vocal, and visual pitfalls that might impede their success. Once they demonstrate proficiency in handling typical questions and unexpected and behavioral queries, we engage in multiple mock interviews to refine their skills further.

In these mock interviews, I focus on asking deep and broad questions. Since clients tell me that answering unexpected questions can cause anxiety, I look for opportunities to ask follow-up and non-standard questions from a particular school. I encourage clients to record our mock interviews and review the videos between our sessions. Over multiple sessions, I build up their confidence. As I tell my clients, interviewing is physical. I compare it to sports. One must master the basics, play scrimmages (with me or another professional coach), and then show up comfortably for the interview, ready for anything. 

It's common to think that an interview is about sharing our best stories, but it is actually more about connecting with the interviewer. What matters is your ability to engage in natural conversation. Instead of trying to speak more eloquently, try listening more deeply and waking up to the gifts. Let's begin. 

“Improv can give us confidence and wings to fly. Come and learn to play games that provide laughter and new ways of seeing the world. I have known Vince Ricci for over 30 years. He is one of the top teachers of this work/play. I recommend his workshop.”  

Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Wisdom author and founder, Stanford Improvisors

"Success now belongs to people who can improvise. No one I know can show us how to do it better than Vince Ricci."

Bryant Welch, J.D., Ph.D., author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, St. Martin's Press, 2008, 2018.

ABOUT VINCE

A graduate of Stanford (B.A. 92) and NYU (M.A. 01), Vince is a lifelong educator, long-time improviser, cross-cultural communications trainer, and leadership coach. While at Stanford, Vince served as the founding Education Director of The Stanford Improvisors under the guidance of Patricia Ryan Madson. In January 2023, he will serve as her T.A. for her Stanford Continuing Studies course. An Oakland, CA native, Vince has been living in Tokyo, Japan, since 2002. He is married to a Japanese national and has a 17-year-old son.